We travelled from Madurai to Trichy by coach with Parveen Travels, who I have to say we’re very good indeed, and would throughly recommend travelling with. They have various offices located throughout southern India and it’s worth checking them out. The journey took around two and a half hours, and was very pleasant indeed. Having read a lot about these three cities whilst doing our research, and reading about the unique temples in each of them, we felt we had to include them on our trip. I won’t go into detail about each city, as quite frankly, and not to sound too harsh they are just very busy Indian cities with little else other than the temples.
I will concentrate on the main sights, and give you a little insight into each.
The temple occupies an area of 155 acres (63 ha) with 50 shrines, 21 towers, 39 pavilions and many water tanks integrated into the complex. The temple town is a significant archeological and epigraphical site, providing a historic window into the early and mid medieval South Indian society and culture. Numerous inscriptions suggest that this Hindu temple served not only as a spiritual center, but also a major economic and charitable institution that operated education and hospital facilities, ran a free kitchen, and financed regional infrastructure projects from the gifts and donations it received “article extracted from Wikipedia”. Two other places of interest in Trichy, are the rock Fort with the seventeenth century Vinayaka (Ganesh) temple at the top. Entrance to the temple is in the very busy, China bazaar street. It’s quite an arduous climb to the top, up some very steep steps at times, which you will have to do bare footed, as it’s a Hindu temple. “Still don’t quite understand this rule, or who even made the rule up”. Upon reaching the top there are far reaching views across the city. The other interesting structure is Our Lady of Lourdes church , which is modelled on the basilica of Lourdes. The church is at the start of bazaar street so visit this first then walk along the China bazaar to get to the Rock Fort. These you could quite easily visit in one day. We originally had four nights booked in Trichy but we cut this down to three, as apart from the above there is not much else to do in the city.
Is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Brihadishwara Temple and is by far my favourite temple on this trip. The Gopura’s (temple towers) are not brightly coloured like most of the other temples we have visited, but are left in original sandstone. Which in my opinion is more pleasing to the eye. Brihadishwara Temple is one of the largest in South India and is dedicated to the god Shiva. Also in town is the Thanjavur Palace. The Thanjavur Maratha Palace Complex, known locally as Aranmanai, is the official residence of the Bhonsle family which ruled over the Tanjore region from 1674 to 1855. Most of it is now derelict but there some interesting artefacts inside and some nicely preserved sections. Note the palace is closed between 1pm and 2pm and entrance costs 200 INR which includes entrance to the library, art gallery and the museum.
Around one and a half hours drive from Thanjāvūr is Kumbakonam, the last stop on our temple trail. Kumbakonam is a very busy, bustling place,we felt more so than the other cities which we had visited, it was manic. It also didn’t help by the fact that our hotel was situated by a very large bus station, with their horns bellowing from early morning and until late at night. We had only booked two nights, so we only had one full day to explore. Their are quite a few temples to visit in Kumbakonam but we only managed one, probably as at this stage in our trip we were quite frankly all templed out. We decided on visiting the Airavatesvara Temple. It’s situated a little out of town, it’s nice and quite, and set in some well manicured grounds. Just perfect. The style of the temple is very much like the Brihadishwara Temple in Thanjāvūr, but on a much smaller scale. So if you are doing the same sort of itinerary as us, and like us “templed out” then it is one to visit.
I feel I want to just add my take on the Hindu way of worship. Being somebody that has no faith, I still find all religions fascinating. Firstly I am a great lover of the amazing architecture of the places of worship, whichever religion this maybe. I am also fascinated by the dedication of the followers. We have seen hundreds possibly thousands of people queuing on a daily basis to give there offerings. We have witnessed train and bus loads of pilgrims travelling from all parts of India to worship at there chosen gods temple. We spoke to a group on a train that had been travelling non stop for some thirty hours to reach a a temple on there pilgrimage. I find this devotion and dedication quite mind blowing. The one thing that I will never understand though is that outside every temple we visited there are many market stalls selling flowers, coconuts, parcels of food, which are then taken into the temple and given to the gods as an offering. In addition to this millions of rupees are donated every day. My question is where does all this food and money go. Certainly not to the people who need it, as the amount of homeless people I have witnessed on the streets and living in squaller and begging for food is incredible. One fact that I looked up was that the current estimates of homeless in India run at 78 million, 11 million of which are children. These figures shocked me. That is 13 million more than the whole population of the UK. Food for thought I think.